North Cascades National Park

Location: Washington

Park Tally: 43/59

Orientation: North Cascades National Park is located just 3 hours from Seattle, though it remains one of the least visited national parks in the country. We feel that North Cascades deserves a lot more love given its breathtaking mountain peaks, abundant glaciers, vibrant lakes, forested valleys and endless opportunities for adventure! The park is open all year long, though some parts close during the winter months. The park consists of two main units, North and South, and two adjoined recreation areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. These three areas make up the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, the only one of its kind in the country. In this guide you will find tips and ideas of things to do in both the national park and the recreation areas.

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Most iconic view:  The jagged mountain peaks of the North Cascades are by far the most breathtaking view in the park. These dramatic “American Alps” are covered in snow most of the year and provide a playground for mountaineers and hikers. Various scenic overlooks provide views of the peaks for those unable to summit a mountain themselves, including Artist Point (by the northwest entrance of the park) and Washington Pass Overlook (by the southeast entrance of the park).

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Accessible activity:  The Trail of the Cedars Nature Walk is an easy 0.3-mile interpretive walk departing from the town of Newhalem. The trail meanders through a lush old growth forest alongside the Skagit River, allowing for solitude despite its proximity to the road. Visitors can learn about forest relationships through interpretive displays along the walk.

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Taking a scenic dive along the North Cascades Highway is another accessible and worthy experience. Be sure to stop at the various overlooks to see the Skagit River, Diablo Lake, Ross Lake and countless mountain peaks. There are plenty of day hikes along the highway for those wishing to stretch their legs.

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For the adventurous: North Cascades National Park has over 300 miles of hiking trails just begging to be explored. We opted to summit Trappers Peak (5,966 feet) in the North Unit of the park for sunset one evening. The 10.6-mile trek has almost 3,500 feet of elevation gain but the 360-degree views at the summit make it well worth the effort! The nearby Pickets Range provided a perfect sunset backdrop and opportunity to capture some beautiful photos.

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Best photo opportunities: As mentioned above, the Pickets Range is a fantastic capture for those willing to put the miles in. Another picturesque location is Mount Shuksan at sunrise, located on the northwest section of the park.   

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Quick facts

  • North Cascades was established as a National Park on October 2, 1968.
  • There are 300+ glaciers in North Cascades National Park, thus more than any other national park outside of Alaska.
  • Good Mountain is the tallest peak in the park, at 9,220 feet tall.
  • Wildlife in the park include grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, mountain goat, mountain lion, wolverine, bobcat, lynx, river otter, bald eagle and more.
  • North Cascades National Park has more plant species recorded within its boundaries than any other park in the country.
  • In 2016, North Cascades National Park proper had 28,646 visitors according to the National Park Service, though Ross Lake and Lake Chelan Recreation areas received many more visitors.

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